Trimbur, “Essayist Literacy and the Rhetoric of Deproduction”

Trimbur, John.
"Essayist Literacy and the Rhetoric of Deproduction." Rhetoric
9.1 (1990): 72-86.

Trimbur works through an indictment of the "monological regime of silence and
facticity" implicit (albeit with paradoxes and contradictions) in essayist
literacy (72). Consider the difference between literacy studies’ framing of
essayist literacy (text as "self-sufficient vehicle of communication, a
non-indexical account that supplies the contexts necessary for interpretation
within the text itself" (73)) and that of composition studies (essayist text
involving a "self-revelatory stance, flexible style, and conversational tone"
(72)). The former, Trimbur explains, manifests (infests?) schooling through
textbooks and consequently sustains a prevailing mythology tying the essay to
natural modes of communication which make use of direct, factual language rather
than figurative or abstract representations.

Trimbur historicizes the (causal?) precedents of the banality of essayist
prose in its presumed rhetorical vacancy. The ubiquity of essayist literacy has
ideological implications reproduced through systems of schooling. Trimbur
introduces what he terms a rhetoric of deproduction, which anticipates that
essayist literacy inheres an arhetoricity: the text is merely to be decoded
(treated as authoritative; read in school for comprehension only); traces of
authorship and persuasive effects are removed.

"Our students read essayist prose, that is, in an undifferentiated
way, much as they would read a newspaper or their textbook in a sociology or
microbiology course, for comprehension, to extract meaning and
information" (72).

"My argument is that the ideal text of essayist literacy results not from
inherent or ‘natural’ properties of literacy per se but from the fact that
essayist literacy positions readers and writers to treat written texts as if
they were transparent reflections of the natural order of things"

"Text, as Olson defines it in opposition to utterance, is
; It has the capacity to speak for itself" (77).

"In other words, the rise of essayist literacy involves the historical
struggle for a cognitive order to replace the personalism of traditional
authority with a new method of verification based upon empirical evidence"

"The discourse of essayist literacy thus codifies the apparent artlessness
of the plain style
into a systematic concealment of the social
processes of producing and using texts. Texts appear to stand alone
and to speak for themselves because they have been, as it were,
" (81).

"The transformation of statements into fact-like entities in contemporary
scientific discourse employs and extends the rhetoric of deproduction we
saw at work earlier in the formation of essayist literacy" (82).

"Like the scientific essay, textbooks result from a larger set
of historical pressures to create a public sphere of universal reason and
civic discourse" (83).

"These gestures [giving quizzes and referring to the text], moreover,
are disciplinary in character: They connect our students’ reading of
texts to the teacher’s gaze and in subtle ways reinforce the culture of
silence in the classroom by positing a moment of semantic closure when
students comprehend what the text means and there is nothing further to be
" (85).

* Enlightenment "natural order of things" (73), ideal text of essayist
literacy as given (74), frictionless prose (80),

Related sources:
Foucault, Michel. The Archaeology of Knowledge. New York: Harper,
Latour, Bruno, and Steve Woolgar. Laboratory Life: The Social
Construction of Scientific Fact
. London: Sage, 1979.
Olson, David R. "From Utterance to Text: The Bias of Language in Speaking
and Writing." Harvard Educational Review 47 (1977): 257-81.